Monthly Archives: September 2011

What is Travel? What is Work?

One of the most oft-repeated arguments I get for not taking working vacations was voiced by a young woman named Sabrina in a letter on Travel For Free, a blog mentioned in my previous post.  In her commentary, she states, with apologies for the language and grammar:

“When I travel, I don’t want to work. Many people work while they travel, they get none or a shitty salary but they offer free rooms and sometimes free (crappy) food. And in the end these people didn’t really travel, they just worked around the world for free and didn’t see much. Traveling is traveling, its vacation time.”

In spite of the poorly worded sentences her argument is clear:  She does not  want to cover the cost of travel through paid work.  I hear this a lot from people who imagine an overseas experiences saddled with back-breaking physical labor, like harvesting crops, or with mind-numbing tasks such as chasing after rambunctious children 24/7.  Well, let me quickly put your concerns (and Sabrina’s) to rest about the pleasures of a working vacation.

My posts are not written for the 18-25 year old crowd heading off to Europe or Asia before starting college, graduate school, or their first job.  For these young travelers, low paid positions such as clearing tables or being a nanny may be all that is available, and these jobs do indeed pay a shitty salary.  Instead, my book and blog are for individuals with one (or more) college degrees, work experience, and, most importantly, professional skills of interest to overseas institutions.  For such people (e.g., doctors, teachers, nurses, business people, engineers, social workers, clergy, artists) there are many short-term postings that, unlike what Sabrina suggests, pay a reasonable salary–certainly enough to live on–and provide both comfortable housing and sufficient free time to enjoy the pleasures and promises of the host country.

However, the most misleading part of Sabrina’s letter is her assertion that  ” … in the end these people didn’t really travel, they just worked around the world for free and didn’t see much… ”   In fact, I would argue that professionals on a short-term working vacation do more and see more than those whose idea of travel is a week or two at the beach, on a cruise ship, or ensconced in some comfy European B&B.   I don’t learn a great deal about a culture, its people, and traditions by talking with my tour guide or peering through the windows of a bus.  Instead,  I settle into an interesting locale, make friends with neighbors and colleagues, shop at the local merchants, and participate in social, cultural, and religious events.  I learn about a culture not by observing it by become a part of it. To me that is the very definition of exciting and rewarding travel.

So, Sabrina, I am sorry to say that I could not disagree more with your argument that those who worked while they traveled “… didn’t see much.”   If by “seeing” you mean ticking off the biggies of the local tourist scene (art museums, temples, waterfalls, big game animals) then maybe you are right. But if you define “seeing” as learning, interacting, and growing intellectually and culturally, then I think that a working vacation has it all over more traditional travel.  In the words of the author Miriam Beard “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is the change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Another Great Working Vacation Website

In my last post I identified an excellent online resource for short-term volunteer postings:  Volunteer Stays.  This is the fourth time I have brought a working vacation resource to the reader’s attention:  Transitions Abroad, described in the post A Great Web Site for Working Vacation Planners; International Executive Service Corps, a site listing overseas positions for business and financial specialists discussed in Working Vacations for (Almost) Everyone; and, finally, Doctors Without Borders, a portal containing all sorts of wonderful short-term opportunity for a wide range of health professionals.

Well, I would like to raise that number to five by identifying another outstanding working vacation blog, The Wandering Educator, a site that is, in their own words, “A Global Community of Educators Sharing Travel Experiences.”

My "Official" Badge as an Editor of the Wandering Educator Web Site

(Full disclosure:  I was recently named Academic Travel Editor for this site and have contributed articles.)   The Wandering Educator is not so much a searchable enumeration of overseas jobs as it is a collection of stories, travel memoirs, and words of encouragement from teachers who have lived and worked overseas and who wish to share those experiences with friends and colleagues.   For example, the site currently contains articles about the benefits of taking academic leave for periods as short as one week, one scholar’s working vacation experiences in the townships of Johannesburg, South Africa, and arguments for why a working vacation can help you get out of that academic rut.  The site also contains links to useful travel resources such as book reviews, information on home rentals, and inexpensive airline and train tickets.

If you are a teacher, at any level, considering a short-term working vacation you really should give this Web site the once over.  And, if you are not yet among this cohort you definitely should read my book, On The Other Guy’s Dime, as well as some of the postings on this blog to get yourself into that frame of mind.

Volunteer Tourism

I want to thank reader Adele for posting the following comment:  “Michael, I recommend you check out Volunteer Stays!”  Well, I did and discovered that it is a Web site whose goals, described on their home page, are virtually identical to those of my own book and blog:

“You’re not interested in packaged vacations. You want to see the world and experience other cultures and ways of life. You need a little adventure in your life, and you know that the best vacation memories are the ones that involve a connection…to people, to nature, to the undiscovered parts of yourself.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself!  So, if a volunteer posting overseas piques your curiosity, check it out.  The site has a search feature that allows you to list your professional skills, dates available, and countries or regions in which you are most interested.  It then tries to locate an overseas job that best matches those desires.  Right now there are not a slew of positions but, hey, it’s rather new so cut it some slack.  I am sure the number of listings will grow rapidly in the coming months, and you can check back as many times as you want to see what is available.

I only ask you to remember one thing:  Unlike the positions described in my blog this is volunteer work, usually about 20 hours per week–enough free time to enjoy the physical, cultural, and historical sights of a region.  But you will be responsible for transportation and visa costs and will not receive a salary, although in most cases you will be provided with accommodations and meals.

My book on the new arrivals table at the Columbia Book Store. Only one left!

So, if you can get away from home for a while and subsist without a salary (e.g., retired,  student on holiday or summer vacation, just won the lottery) Volunteer Stays is a great way to locate a temporary position overseas, settle in, and become an integral part of a new and different culture.  It is also a great way to turn that holiday into an opportunity to help others.  However, if  receiving a salary is a non-negotiable feature of any position you would accept, then please check out the paid working vacation strategies described in my book, On The Other Guy’s Dime.